Alternative Breaks Leave a Lasting Impression
Lindsey wondered about the families they had left behind.
“They both had gashes in their head and never smiled,” she said.
Lindsey, now a senior, was part of one of USC’s many Alternative Winter and Spring Break programs, where students travel somewhere else in the world to volunteer. This particular “AWB” focused on helping children at an orphanage in Ladyville, Belize.
Lindsey said she was first introduced to volunteerism as a junior in high school, when she traveled to South Africa as part of a service learning program.
“I quickly learned that integrating myself into a community was the best way to learn about its people and their culture,” she said.
For Lindsey, the USC Volunteer Center was the next step. She is now the center's special projects coordinator.
Alternative Winter and Spring Break programs are open to students of any major, and they vary widely in cost. According to the website, they range from $450 to $2,500. Fundraising is a popular way to raise money for the trip and gain support from the community.
Siobhan O’Malley, a junior at USC who participated in an Alternative Spring Break program to El Salvador last year through the USC Caruso Catholic Center, said, “The trip ended up being super affordable and we were blessed to have a large donation from a very loving Catholic Trojan so for me it was not too hard, although I know a couple of our students did struggle. We do everything in our power to make sure money is not the reason people are holding back from going on a trip like ours at the Center.”
Andrew Logan, who was also involved in the ASB through the USC Catholic Center, explained that on top of the financial burden, not taking time off in the middle of a busy semester can be demanding.
“It has been a long time since I've actually taken a break over a school period," he said. "I know I would not be as stressed if I would take a period of time to relax."
Still, most students agree the program is worth missing out on a normal break.
“I can remember being jealous of the more affluent kids who were able to go to exotic beaches and party or just relax, but to be honest, I am happiest when I am serving and I would not trade my experience for the world,” said O’Malley.
Lindsey, who has spent her past two Christmases away from her family, said, “Why settle for a 'normal' winter break when you can travel to another country and spend the holidays making meaningful connections with people you wouldn't likely meet otherwise, and create change at the same time?”
Change is a buzz word in conversations about alternative breaks. Logan said that he was especially impacted by the gratitude he was shown from people in El Salvador.
“A woman we were building a house for was so grateful that she offered to give us more than half of her chickens for us to eat," he said. "Her chickens were the only food she had, but she wanted us to know the extent of her thankfulness.
Ultimately, students say they take away as much from these programs as they give.
Lindsey said that by creating a program in Thailand, she “sought to create an experience that allowed my participants, some who had never left the States, to experience a way of life that totally differed from what they had experienced before. Traveling to an entirely different country—culturally, economically, and politically—allowed me to accomplish that.”
Some students say that although there is plenty to be done in California, it’s this element of culture change that makes it valuable for the volunteers, too.
In Belize on Christmas Day, Lindsey made it her goal to make the twins smile. She took them to a slide.
“The minute they went down the slide they were all smiles, and as soon as their feet touched the ground, their hands were already up in the air," she said. "I would pick them up and put them at the top of the slide. We must have continued this for about 45 minutes straight."
“Their smiles never left their faces [on the slide]. It was the best Christmas gift I could have asked for.”
Reach Contributor Anita Dukart here.